Having reached an agreement with leaders of the region’s 10 councils, George Osborne has announced new plans to introduce a directly elected Mayor for Greater Manchester from 2017, as part of a devolution deal worth £1bn. Leading the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Osborne envisages an elected mayor presiding over a range of issues including transport, social care and housing as well as policing.
This important step will introduce a local elected representative with the ability to base decisions on local needs and priorities. This opportunity to devolve powers to local areas was the drive behind Policy Exchange’s proposals for the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners. One individual, directly accountable to their electorate, now holds the key to bring about a more locally responsive and joined-up response to crime and policing. It is an ambitious and exciting prospect that an elected Mayor of Greater Manchester will hold such powers over an even wider range of areas.
The announcement has inevitably brought into question the future of Police and Crime Commissioners. 41 elected PCCs took office in 2012, and now hold responsibility for policing and crime in their local area. Powers include deciding the policing budget for their force, setting the police precept and holding the Chief Constable to account. Will the introduction of an elected mayor see the role of Police and Crime Commissioners scrapped altogether? As Labour and the Liberal Democrats have recently confirmed that they would scrap PCCs if successful in next year’s general election, does this mean the Conservatives are following suit?
If anything, their intention is quite the opposite.
The policing reforms created a new set of local politicians, with considerable powers, which should be seen as a new infrastructure for local democracy. In a report published last year, Power Down, Policy Exchange recommended that the government go even further and develop the role of PCCs over time to gradually accrue powers over other areas such as transport, planning and the environment. Policy Exchange’s work in the area of technology has also recognised the potential that elected Mayors hold for economic growth and the development of tech clusters, by providing empowered and responsive local political leadership.
It is to be welcomed that the government is starting to push the localism agenda and build on the local democratically-elected roots that have been laid down. The introduction of an elected Mayor should be seen as an expansion of the role of Police and Crime Commissioners – not as a simple ‘replacement’ of them. The Labour Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester, Tony Lloyd, has said himself that he is ‘bound to welcome the transfer of powers, responsibilities and resources to Greater Manchester and bringing important decisions closer to home.’
It must be noted, however, that while PCCs now have a valuable suite of powers in policing, they do not yet have the right tools to fulfil the ‘and Crime’ aspect of their role and effect change in the wider criminal justice system. The plans for Greater Manchester should not halt progress to develop the Police and Crime Commissioner model, and the Home Office and Ministry of Justice must continue to support and shape the role in the most appropriate way for each area. The plans in Greater Manchester should be seen as one way of expanding the role of PCCs and devolving powers to local elected representatives – as George Osborne rightly highlighted, ‘every city is different and no model of local power will be the same’.